Something is about to happen that has happened only once before in my life. I have finally reached the point at which I will send my new book forth into the world. I have six readers whom I trust and who have agreed to read the book and provide criticism before I do the final edit.
Of course, I “finished” the book a while ago, and that was very nice, but all it really meant was that it was time to go through it and find all the parts that sucked and change them so that they sucked less. I hate that part of writing and laziness plus my job plus getting sick about 8,000 times since Christmas really conspired to make this process take much longer than I wanted it to. Still, preparing to pass a book out to people is one of my favorite parts. Books aren’t like short stories. You don’t just slap a title at the top of the first page and email it to whoever. There’s a title page and then a page with a couple of quotes from other books (Winesburg, Ohio and All the King’s Men) that I feel capture the essence of what the book is really about. (Yes, I know how pretentious that sounds.) In this book there are even three parts that are themselves divided into chapters. I don’t know why, but it’s really enjoyable to go through and put all of that stuff in. Even though the book isn’t finished. In an important way, this is the most finished it will ever feel. Undoubtedly, there will be changes. Some of them may be pretty significant. This book is almost twice as long as my last one, and I’m fairly certain there are things I didn’t pull off and things that I repeated too often and things that just don’t need to be there. That’s why I’m handing it out. But, in a few days when I print it off, I will be able to hand it to someone and it will feel like handing them a book and not just a stack of chapters which is sort of what it feels like to finish the first time. So, if I haven’t done this before, I’d like to give a little history of the book:
The central character is Charles Burden. He first appeared in a story my junior year of college (that’s 2000-2001 is you’re scoring at home). I wrote the story (“Windows”) for a class. The assignment was to mimic a story from an author we liked. I chose to mimic “Hands” from Winesburg, Ohio. I took Charles’ surname from Jack Burden, the narrator in All the King’s Men. The events of this story became the basis for part one of the book. A few years later, I got it published by a local independent paper.
I have not, it should be noted, been working on this book for that long. In fact, not much happened with Charles for years. I wrote another book, played a lot of guitar, and spent four years at a dead end job. The other book is important because when it was finished, I took a few months off and started looking for something else to write about. I hit upon “Windows” while looking through an old writing folder. I read through it and realized that though I had not named him, I had written a character very like Charles in several other stories. I looked at these other stories and a narrative came together. It was kind of magical, actually. This was the first time I ever wrote something knowing what would happen at the end. In fact, the last chapter was one of the first things I wrote.
When I did start writing sometime early in 2007, Charles became a physicist (he had been a PhD in history, but this wouldn’t work in the story. Also, I wanted to learn about physics). Interestingly, Cate was in a creative writing class I taught that semester, and had it not been for this book (I showed the class one chapter and she asked to read more. She was a talented writer, so I agreed), we likely would not have gotten together.
I wrote the largest chunk of the book (probably about 50,000 words or so) during that summer as, for the first time in years, I had time to sit down and just write. I also broke up with a girlfriend and periodically emailed a chapter to Cate who was in DC for the summer. I thought I was going to make quick work of the first draft, but I started teaching full time and that took a lot of time, and Cate and I started dating not long after she came back from DC (and then got engaged and then got married), and that took a lot of time (I’m not complaining), and then there were some terrible things that happened that I’m not going to go into, but it’s safe to say that I haven’t written as much as I would have liked over the last few years. It’s been a battle at times, but over the last year and a half I worked on it in snatches of time and finally got to this point.
The title came very late in the game. For a long time is was just “The Charles Burden Book”, then it was “The Approximate Life of Charles Burden.” Finally, a few weeks ago, I was lying in bed and thought of Lonely Human Atoms, which fits just right and is actually the result of my misremembering the following Sherwood Anderson quote from Winesburg, Ohio.
In that high place in the darkness the two oddly sensitive human atoms held each other tightly. In the mind of each was the same thought. “I have come to this lonely place and here is this other,” was the substance of the thing that was felt.
Now here I am, sitting at my computer, and I do not have a book to work on. I can write about whatever I want. I could have done this before, of course, but that’s not really how I work. I have some ideas. I am going to write a short story that stems from the little flash fiction nugget I had published recently. There are a couple of books. One that I know I’ll start soon and one I’ll likely put off for a bit as it will be a very ambitious project and I’m not ready for another one of those just yet. There are other short stories hopping around in my head, also, and I want to write those.
It’s an exciting time. I have a lot of creative freedom right now. I also have a child coming, and aside from all the normal excitement, I’m interested to see if the change in perspective I expect to take place will affect my writing style. This summer is going to be an adventure, but I think it will be fun. In any case, I’m ready for a little adventure.